Coast Guard City shows it's 'always ready,' too


Sunday, January 27, 2019

We’d like to think it was the prospect of 800,000 federal workers not receiving a second straight paycheck that finally did the trick.

Of course it could have been his rapidly slipping poll numbers among fellow Republicans, or the need to distract from the other big news on Friday: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of his longtime confidant, Roger Stone, on charges Stone lied about his knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Whatever the motivation, President Donald Trump retreated Friday from his entrenched position that any agreement to reopen the partially shutdown federal government include $5.7 billion in funding for a wall at the U.S.’ southern border. Without anything other than a promise from Congress to negotiate his demand for wall funding, Trump agreed to sign appropriation bills for nine federal agencies that had been shuttered for 35 days, effectively ending the government shutdown that had furloughed about 380,000 federal employees and forced another 420,000 to work for more than a month without pay.

The news couldn’t have come any sooner for the hundreds of active-duty Coast Guard personnel and 1,400 civil service employees who work at Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City and were affected by the shutdown because their parent agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was one of the nine shuttered. After not receiving a paycheck earlier this month, many were forced to apply for food stamps, visit food banks, and seek payment extensions on their utility bills and home mortgages. Their financial woes were also our woes: Because of the shutdown, they were making fewer purchases, traveling less and eating out less often.

The deal Trump agreed to also came in the nick of time for Coast Guard retirees. Fifty-thousand of them, a number of whom live in the Elizabeth City area, were at risk of not getting their monthly pension checks on Feb. 1 if the shutdown had persisted through Thursday. That would have sent even greater ripple effects through our economy.

Of course, the agreement Trump struck with Congress on Friday is only for three weeks. So we very well could be back where we were, facing another partial shutdown of the government on Feb. 15 if Trump isn’t satisfied with the agreement Congress comes up with for more border security funding.

Exercising a little bluster even as he was retreating, Trump in fact threatened that might happen, saying Friday “the government will shut down” if a “barrier or walls” are not part of the agreement.

But it seems increasingly likely now that a second shutdown won’t happen. The U.S. Senate, where any agreement that sticks will have to be crafted, has already seen what won’t work. Two competing bills — one offered by Republicans that included Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall and one offered by Democrats that reopened the government but didn’t include wall funding — both failed on Thursday to gain the 60 votes required for passage.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had avoided taking an advocacy role for any compromise legislation while Trump was still demanding wall funding, seemed a lot more engaged Friday in ensuring an agreement’s reached that won’t result in another shutdown. And now that the government is back open, Senate Democrats also seem more amenable to an agreement that spends a lot more on border security — for more hardening of ports of entry, more border agents, and more technology like drones — even if it won’t include funding for a continuous wall.

The only real danger to an agreement that’s lasting and will prevent another shutdown is the president’s reaction to criticism from his allies on the hard right. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter already took aim at Trump on Friday, calling him on Twitter “the biggest wimp” to serve as president. That kind of goat-getting is what launched the first shutdown. Trump was ready to sign the nine appropriation bills before Christmas until he was criticized by right-wing pundits, including Coulter, for not first demanding money for his long-promised border wall. Taking the bait, our thin-skinned president quickly backtracked and refused to sign the bills, effectively shuttering the government agencies they funded.

It remains to be seen if the same thing won’t happen again. Of course no one hopes it will. But if it does, our community has already demonstrated it’s up to the task of making sure our friends and neighbors who work at Base Elizabeth City weather the storm. Prior to Friday’s announcement that an agreement had been reached to end the shutdown, community groups, churches, businesses and private individuals had already mobilized to help both Coasties and furloughed federal workers affected by the shutdown. Several agencies were sponsoring food pantries, a number of businesses had given away free meals, and a handful of churches had hosted meals and given away gift cards for groceries and gas.

We fully expect all of those who’ve already helped will step up again if they need to, and they’ll be joined by many others. Because much like the Coast Guard, whose motto is “Semper Paratus,” or “Always Ready,” our Coast Guard City also stands ready to help if called to serve.